Tag Archives: Jesus of Nazareth

Pope Benedict XVI

The pope gave us a beautiful example of humility in his resignation today, just before we begin the season of Lent.

SONY DSCIt was a conscious decision, “before God” he makes it, not simply on his own.

It was a brave decision. No pope in recent times has resigned. He was not afraid of going out into uncharted waters.

It was not his own good he looked out for, but the good of the church. The office of the papacy is demanding and he saw it beyond his strength.

I think he leaves a powerful legacy that will be more appreciated in time. His books on Jesus of Nazareth are treasures that will last. His homilies and letters will be mined for years to come. He’s a beautiful writer and religious thinker.

God bless him.

Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives

You wish they would read it instead of looking for a headline. I mean the pope’s new book “Jesus of Nazareth, the Infancy Narratives”  Image Books, 2012. From the headlines the last few days you would think all the pope said was that the ox and the donkey weren’t around the manger at Christ’s birth, and he’s joining others who question the historical reliability of this event.

The contrary is true. As in his previous books on Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict engages what modern scriptural scholarship says about this section of the gospels. (True, he depends on German and French scholarship for the most part) But if anything, the pope sees a swing from not accepting a history behind the infancy narratives to a recognition of historical facts.

But he does more than affirm history. He sees meaning behind the facts. So the manger of Jesus to him is the Lord’s first throne, the humble temple where he comes to feed the poorest of the world.

“So the manger has in some sense become the Ark of the Covenant, in which God is mysteriously hidden among men, and before which the time has come for ‘ox and ass’–humanity made up of Jews and Gentiles–to acknowledge God.”

I downloaded the book yesterday. A good book to read in Advent. Here’s a theologian and mystic at work. I think his three volumes on Jesus of Nazareth will stand as his lasting contribution to the church.

Jesus of Nazareth

In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict presents a picture of Jesus Christ from the gospels using the tools of modern scholarship as well as insights from the long tradition of the church.

While he welcomes the resources recent biblical studies provide, he also acknowledges some limitations:

“As historical-critical scholarship advanced…the figure of Jesus became more and more blurred…The reconstructions of Jesus became more and more incompatible with one another: at the one end of the spectrum, Jesus was the anti-Roman revolutionary working–though finally failing–to overthrow the ruling powers; at the other end, he was the weak moral teacher that approves everything and unaccountably comes to grief.”

Some reconstructions of Jesus over the last fifty years are “more like photographs of their authors and the ideals they hold,” the pope says. The result is a skepticism about our ability to know Jesus at all. “This is a dramatic situation for faith, because its point of reference is being placed in doubt: Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which all else depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air.”( foreward xii, Jesus of Nazareth, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Ignatius Press 2008)

Seems to me the aim of preaching and catechesis today, as the pope suggests, is to offer a renewed picture of Jesus, enriched by modern studies and faithful to what tradition says of him. A challenge.

Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth”

Are old voices speaking out anew? What about the voice of Holy Scripture, the books of the Old and New Testament? What about an old pope?

I’ve just finished reading Pope Benedict’s  Jesus of Nazareth, volume 2. I think this book may be his greatest contribution to the church. He’s regularly described as a traditionalist, but in this book he approaches Jesus listening, not to voices from earlier church commentaries, but to new voices speaking through modern biblical studies.

Recent popes  have acknowledged and approved of modern biblical scholarship, but none use it so thoroughly as Benedict does in this work. He opens the scriptures and let’s them speak of Jesus and his mission to the world.

His insights are profound and make you want to look at the scriptures more closely yourself  for the wisdom they contain. One recent European study said that Catholics there don’t read scripture much; I think the same could be said about this side of the Atlantic too. People prefer sermons.

My challenge is not to get people to listen to my sermons, but to help them prayerfully read and reflect on the scriptures themselves in a regular way. That’s what the pope himself recommended recently. Take up the scriptures; they speak of Christ.

He never says read my book, but I’m going to read it again too. It’s very good.

Mission, Plainville, Ct. April4

Jesus, our Teacher

Catechesis: Monday evening

Our church says Jesus Christ speaks to us through the scriptures, so to begin with, get a  good bible and use it.

My suggestion is the New American Bible. A good translation, good notes and it’s the version we read in church. The bible is going to be our ordinary catechism. Let’s learn from it.

We used to have a number of Catholic book stores where you could get some help in buying Catholic resources, but many are closed today. You can easily get lost in the big chains like Barnes and Noble and the online stores like Amazon.


Try to read some good commentaries on the scriptures. On line, the Passionists have daily reflections on the scriptural readings at www.thepassionists.org

I already mentioned the US Bishops site http://www.usccb.org/nab/

There’s a growing list of good commentaries available online and in print.

Try to learn as much as you can about biblical times and culture. But I have to say a few words of caution about some of the biblical programs you see on television from The History Channel and National Geographic. Sometimes these programs use sensationalism to attract viewers and are not always accurate.

Meditate on the gospels. Don’t be afraid to reflect on a story and become part of it. Some of the most beautiful insights into the gospels have come from ordinary people praying from the scriptures. I think of Brigid of Sweden, whose reflections on the Passion of Jesus gave us the Pieta, the image of the dead body of Jesus cradled in his mother’s arms beneath the cross. The gospels say nothing of that, but Brigid said it had to be.

You can meditate on the scriptures using a traditional prayer like the rosary. Recently, Pope John Paul suggested we meditate on other mysteries of Jesus’ life besides the 15 traditional mysteries. Spiritual writers in the past often suggested we join Mary, who “treasured all these things and kept them in her heart,” when we reflect on Jesus and his times.

Pope Benedict’s new book. Jesus of Nazareth, is an example of someone reflecting on Jesus in the light of the scriptures.  Some may find it difficult to read– the pope is a theologian, after all,  and he thinks like a theologian– but he’s giving the church an example of someone reflecting and praying about the mystery of Jesus Christ.





The Last Days

When Jesus came up to Jerusalem before his death, he was not a hapless Galillean peasant who would be cut down by a powerful Jewish-Roman elite. He was not simply a healer who was killed because he stirred up crowds and might also stir up revolution in the sensitive land of his day.

Those who believed in him saw him as a great teacher, a  “Rabbi” well aware of his times and his tradition. Matthew’s gospel emphasizes his role as teacher. But he was more than that, as Peter testifies in the 9th chapter of Matthew. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

In the chapters of the synoptic gospels  preceding his passion, Jesus Christ speaks about the world and its future, the “end times.”  In his new book,” Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2,” Pope Benedict calls this part of the gospel the most difficult part to explain.

Jesus sees the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and what follows it. That’s important as he goes to his death.

He sees himself as the new temple. In a new age, when the gentiles are called to believe in him, the old temple will be abandoned. Its sacrifices for sins now take place through the blood of the Lamb. His blood is shed for us and we are united to God through him.

So much of what Jesus does at the Last Supper begins that replacement of the temple and its sacrifices.

The temple and everything about it was dear to him. That’s obvious from what he says about it and his devotion to its worship. Like a mother hen he would have sheltered the Holy City under his wings, but it turned away, as it turned away from Jeremiah and the other prophets.

There are signs up on the buses from Union City to New York City that Judgment Day is  coming on May 21st. That’s the word from Harold Camping on Family Radio, who has it all figured out.

The pope’s summary of the end times in his book is so much more nuanced than that of the biblical  fundamentalists. He keeps the future mysterious, and repeats Jesus’ message to “stay awake” each day.


Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week

I’m reading Pope Benedict XVI’s “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week,” which treats of his journey into Jerusalem to his resurrection. The pope introduces the book by saying he’s   not going to overwhelm us with the historical questions that so many of the studies about Jesus concentrate on today. By reducing Jesus to his history, we can miss his presence with us today, he says.

Still,  Benedict is obviously trying to incorporate into his study the work of recent scriptural scholars which give us renewed appreciation of Jesus Christ.

He begins with the different approaches to his journey to Jerusalem found in the gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke describe one journey. John’s gospel describes three journeys to the Holy City, beginning with the ominous one where he overturns the tables in the temple, which creates a growing suspicion among the Jewish leaders that he’s a danger to Judaism and its temple.

Jesus “ascends” to Jerusalem. His ascent is concrete, first of all. From the Sea of Galilee, 690 feet below sea level, to Jerusalem almost 2,500 feet above sea level. But he “goes up” to Jerusalem in a spiritual sense as well. He makes his way to the Jerusalem which is above, the “new Jerusalem,” and he brings his followers with him, beginning with the twelve but then with others who join him on the way.

As he goes through Jericho, also a symbolic city of  journeys, he meets the blind man, Bartimaeus, who shouts out “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” When Jesus calls him over and gives him his sight, he says to Bartimaeus, “Go on your way;  your faith has made you well.” And the man begins to “follow him on the way.”

The pope doesn’t overwhelm us either with obvious conclusions from the scriptural sources. They tell us that others joined Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, in great numbers, including this poor blind man, who follows him on the way.

And what about us, as well? The crowd around him try to shout him down, but the blind man keeps calling. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” Surely, we are among those who call and follow.

I downloaded the pope’s book from Amazon and I’m  reading it on my iTouch. I’m trying to discover the limits and possibilities of ebooks these days of Lent. So far, so good.

Beauty every ancient, ever new

The recent blogs from America and Commonweal magazines mention Pope Benedict’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2, which is due out next week and which devotes a great deal of attention to the gospel narratives of the Passion. The bloggers, like the New York Times yesterday, seem interested mostly in what the pope says about Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus. Following Nostra Aetate from the Second Vatican Council, Benedict says the Jewish people were not responsible for putting Jesus to death; the Romans and a few Jewish leaders were the primary culprits.

Yet, it would be regrettable to see the pope’s treatment of the Passion narratives only as a lengthy statement about this issue, important as it is. From what I read, he’s doing more. He’s looking at the Passion of Jesus like other believers before have done: as a book that reveals in those harsh and heroic moments the wisdom of God.

He seems to be using insights from modern scholars, new tools that can add to the way we reflect on this great story. The Passion of Jesus has always been “the well-trained tongue” that God uses to speak to us, but we may not hear it so well today, and the pope is reminding us of its power and glory.

We tend to say “I’ve heard that already. I know the story.” But it’s a revelation of God and humanity;  “a Beauty ever ancient, ever new.”

Nearing his death, Paul of the Cross was supposed to have pointed to the crucifix over his bed and said to the brother caring for him, “Give me my book.” That seems to be what the pope is doing also.